It was early Monday morning that Dylan decided her least favorite way to be woken up was by police sirens.
She was having the most wonderful dream; her and Teddy were having a picnic on the beach, a sunset coloring their faces red, when the guy from the Old Spice commercials came galloping down the waterline on a beautiful white stallion. He helped both of them aboard, and they rode all the way to Hogwarts, where Ron Weasley stole her away on Buckbeak the hippogriff. She was just cradling a newborn, already ginger baby when she heard the thumping of fists on the front door, the blare of the siren outside her window, and her father's muffled voice as he greeted the visitor.
Dylan opened her bleary eyes, already pissed off. What a great start to the day! She threw on one of her dad's old college sweatshirts over her tank, made sure her boxers were straightened, threw her hair up in a quick bun, and then proceeded down the stairs.
Bridgette was already there, standing with her profile in Dylan's view. Her lips were pressed together tightly, her arms crossed over her chest, and Dylan could tell her sister was trying not to cry. It took a moment for Dylan's groggy mind to register why her sister might react like this, but then she realized.
Thumping on the door.
Her father's stern voice.
Pushing past Bridgette, she saw her mother sitting on the couch next to Mikey, whose lanky form was all bunched up. He had his face in his hands, his knobby knees knocking together as he shook. Her dad was speaking to a police officer in a low voice, gesturing subtly with his hands. The police officer, for his part, seemed adamant on whatever he was pressing.
"What's going on?" Dylan demanded, loud enough for the entire room to hear. Her father and the police officer ignored her, but her mother quickly stood up and turned around, an expression of horror firmly on her face.
"You girls shouldn't be down here," she muttered quickly to her daughters. "Go on up to bed, we'll talk about this in the morning. Okay?"
Dylan peered around her ushering arms at Mikey, who looked far away and alone on the couch. "Um, no. Not okay. What happened, Mom? Don't baby us."
Mrs. Barney bit her lip, turning around for a moment to glance at her husband, who was still deep in conversation. Finally, she looked back at the two of them. "Mikey's gotten into a little bit of trouble."
Dylan felt her heart plummet into her large intestine. It was exactly what she had been dreading since she first saw the officer. This couldn't be happening. Not again.
"What kind of trouble?" Bridgette asked, her voice sounding small and high. Like a little girl's.
Their mother sighed, rubbing her hands over her face tiredly. "Can't we talk about this in the morning? I really—"
"You really?" Dylan interjected. "Huh. Well, too bad this isn't about you, Mom."
Bridgette bit her lip. "Is…is Mikey going to jail?"
At these words, the police officer and Mr. Barney broke their conversation. With a resigned sigh, he joined his family at the bottom of the stairs, where Bridgette's question still hung in the air. Was he, or wasn't he? Dylan honestly didn't know how she could stand living with these people if Mikey wasn't there with her.
"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do," Mr. Barney said, turning to watch the officer squat down in front of Mikey. "He's a good kid, we know that, but he's screwed up one too many times. Let's face it; this isn't his first offense."
Dylan's heart broke with every word her father spoke, picking out phrases such as "learn his lesson" and "trial date" and "possession". She watched as though in slow motion as Mikey stood up, the open door spilling light from the rising sun on his blotchy face. He was turned around by the officer, who placed cuffs around his wrist. As he made his way towards the door, Mikey glanced over towards his family, making eye contact with only Dylan.
She let the disappointment flood onto her face, and the shame that showed on his echoed it. His eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed, vacant and yet so close to home. He quickly looked away, towards the ground, and didn't utter a word as he was led outside, into the squad car, and sped away.
Dylan opened up her mouth to say something once they could no longer hear the shriek of the sirens, but her father beat her to it.
"Go to bed, girls."
"We're not gonna talk about this?" Dylan inquired, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at her parents. As though it were their fault that Mikey had just been taken away. As though they had arranged this whole thing, just so Dylan would feel alone in her own home again.
Her parents exchanged a look. "Not tonight," her mother murmured, putting a hand on Bridgette's shaking shoulder. "You have school in a few hours; get some rest."
Bridgette nodded, always the obedient one, and glided back up the stairs. Dylan waited til the sounds of her shallow, shaking breaths had faded away before turning to look at her father. "Did they catch him smoking pot?"
He blinked once, twice, obviously surprised by her outright saying this. "Michael was caught doing something very inappropriate—"
"Was he smoking, or not?" Dylan probed, raising her eyebrows. In her mind, it made all the difference.
"I don't see why—"
"It's a simple yes or no question, Dad. "
He glared at her. "This has nothing to do with you. Go to bed, Dylan."
"Why won't you just answer the—"
"God dammit, I said go to bed!" he hissed, taking a step forward and sticking his finger in her face. "And if I have to say it one more time, you'll be sorry."
She knew it was an empty threat, yet she still took a step back. "Don't you trust me? Aren't I old enough to know?"
Her mother stepped forward, trying to reach out to her. "Honey, just do as your father says. It's late and…" She let her voice trail off softly, making a sympathetic twitch with her mouth.
"If I just did as my father said, all the time, then you might as well call me Bridgette II, huh?" she spat, crossing her arms tightly over her chest and giving both of them a look of disgust. "I know I'm being difficult. I know. But he's my brother, and I care about him. I don't see why I can't get the fucking truth in this house anymore."
"Young lady," her father began, his voice low and dangerous. "Don't you take that tone with me, or your mother. And do not use such foul language in my presence!" His voice rose to a powerful crescendo, specks of spit flecking onto Dylan's face.
She immediately hopped back two stairs, the look on her dad's face horrifying her. "Why won't you just tell me?" Dylan asked quietly, her voice straining at the end.
"We don't want to upset you—"
"So that's what this is about?" she cut in. She let out an exasperated breath and a heavy eye roll. "This might come as a shock to you, but I won't try and kill myself again just because you tell me that my brother is a pothead, something that I certainly already know."
"And despite the fact that he's messed up half the time I'm with him, I still like him more than any of you. Probably because he treats me like a human being," she mused, "and not a mental patient."
Her mother let out a small sob, crumbling into herself, and her father's entire face lit up with fury. But she wouldn't hear any of it. She stormed up the stairs, slammed the door to her room, locked it, and ignored the furious pounding that went on for well over an hour. All she could do was sit on her bed, stare at the clock, and try to remember a time that she had felt this bad.
She could only come up with one.
It was around five o'clock in the morning, an hour before she usually woke up, that she finally reached into her backpack, pulled out a sheet up paper, and wrote Henry a letter.
Truth: I feel so alone right now.
Isn't it funny how everything can be absolutely perfect one minute, and then just go to shit the next? It's not fair. A lot of families never have anything happen to them; they're normal, they live everyday lives, they survive. Like…like Alana's family. I love that girl to death, but she doesn't understand anything that I go through because she can't. She has a bunch of siblings that all bicker but end up holding each other close during their annual family photo shoot. She has a mom and a dad, and they have a dynamic worthy of Seventh Heaven.
But, no. I have to be stuck with parents on the verge of divorce, a brother who I like only because he's dopey enough not to care about anything at all, and a sister with a fourteen foot poll rammed up her ass. And you, too, Henry. Your family isn't perfect. Why us? Why can't we have at least some stability to guide us through life?
What I'm trying to say is that Mikey got busted. Again.
Henry sat in study hall, his pencil drawing slow patterns in the corner of his math homework. Every once in a while, he would glance over at the seat that Dylan usually occupied. But, no, she wasn't there. Same as five minutes ago.
He was pulled out of his trance by a loud squeal, the clacking of expensive shoes against the hard floor, and a sharp voice whispering in his ear, "Henny-Poo, guess who's here?"
Sighing, he tried not to show the annoyance on his face as he swiveled around to see Connie watching over him eagerly. She hadn't been here in a long time, ever since a big fight they had a while back. They had been kind of on the rocks for a long time, and Connie had been spending her free periods out in the courtyard with her girlfriend, no doubt talking about him. Apparently, though, she was over it.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked, her tone still light but her eyes dangerous.
"Right. Yeah. I…er…missed you a ton."
This answer seemed to quell the growing storm that happened when Connie didn't hear what she wanted to hear. She happily bounded into Henry lap, sinking her bony butt into his thighs painfully. He grunted, but she didn't seem to notice.
"I can't believe it's been so long since we've spent study hall together," she said at full volume, the librarians all glaring at her while she carelessly sunk her hands into Henry's air and played with his curls.
He pulled his head away a little bit, looking at her seriously. "Yeah, er, this is great. Do you think you could keep it down a little bit, Con?" He nodded wordlessly at the librarians, who were muttering amongst themselves and still looking at the couple.
She didn't answer him, instead just stared off into the distance with narrowed eyes.
Still, she just glowered ahead, muttering under her breath, "Is that…?"
Henry looked away from his girlfriend, following her gaze to a blonde girl probably a freshman—who was approaching their table. She walked right up to them, pep in her step and a bright smile spread across her face. Her golden hair fell past her shoulders in loose waves, and her bright green eyes glittered pleasantly.
"Hi," Connie said as she approached, her voice a monotone. It was the kind of greeting that was really meant as a closing.
"Hey, Connie," the girl chirped, taking a step closer to where they sat and pulling a folded up piece of paper out of her backpack. "I'm supposed to give this to Henry?"
And then it clicked. Henry's mouth fell open, and his eyes widened. This was Bridgette, a girl that had been described to him so many times. She was nearly identical to her sister, save for thinner lips, a straighter nose, a straighter posture, and a little less height.
Instantly, Connie reached out for the paper, trying to snatch it out of Bridgette's hands. The younger girl pulled back though, an apologetic smile adorning her lips. "I'm sorry, Connie, but my sister told me specifically that this was for Henry. And she said it was important to get it to him now, so…" She reached around Connie and held out the paper to Henry.
He gulped in a mouthful of air, bubbles of panic spurting in his stomach. He reached and took what he now knew to be the letter, cursing Dylan for having been sick today.
"Why couldn't she give it to him herself?" Connie hissed, and Henry knew that it was all over. The gig was up.
For a second, Bridgette's carefully laid out smile flashed into something else. A grimace? A scowl? But, no, he couldn't be sure, because then he blinked and her features remained the same as before. "She wouldn't leave her room this morning, except to give me this."
"Dylan's always been funny like that," Connie said, turning around and looking at Henry. She was grinning from ear to ear, but it didn't take a genius to tell that she was pissed off. "Right, Henry?"
"Right," he responded, his voice barely above a whisper.
"We'll see you later, Bridge." Connie gave the girl a pointed look. "Way later."
"Bye!" she said brightly, turning around walking jovially out of the library. She even stopped to give one of the librarians a small wave, and to muss someone's hair. Connie and Henry watched her all the way out of the room.
It was silent for a moment. Henry couldn't see Connie's face, and that scared him even more than the fact that she now knew about his friendship with Dylan. Of course, that's not the way she would see it. The first thing she would do was probably jump to the conclusion that they were sneaking around, and even when he told her they weren't, there were always the letters. They had gotten pretty close through those. Close enough to sign with 'love'.
Slowly, she rose from his lap, still not looking at him. She began to walk away slowly, as though in a daze.
She stopped, turning around slowly to face him. Henry's heart beat a million miles per hour, dreading the pure evil that was sure to show on her face. However, when she looked at him, there was no expression her face. It was just…blank. She didn't say anything.
"Connie—I know this looks bad, but I swear it's just for the Alternate Assignment."
Connie swallowed carefully, blinking deliberately a few times. "Right. The Alternate Assignment that ended about three months ago."
Shit. She had him there. "Um. Extra credit?"
She let out a humorless laugh, looking at the wall to avoid the terror in his eyes. "Can you please just…just stop lying to me?"
When he didn't say anything—Christ, what could he say?—she shook her head and walked away. There was no tantrum, no threats, and no fake tears. There was silence in her wake, every set of eyes turned to Henry. He was sure they were wondering if they had just witnessed the demise of the great Hornman-McCormick rule.
For the first time in their relationship, Henry felt like he was the jerk. That he was the one who messed up. And also, for the first time ever, he just didn't give a fuck.
He pulled Dylan's letter open and began reading.
Sorry that I didn't get the chance to respond to you this weekend. Apparently you got a little impatient, because you sent me another letter. So. In regards to the first one:
What have we talked about? I thought Horneman was a thing of the past. Shut up about my name, it sucks. It looks like I might not have to break up with Connie; she might do it for me (thanks to you). More about this later. I'm still awaiting my invitation to your Ridding of Connie party. But can we not invite Alana? She makes me a little bit uncomfortable. I'm glad you've resolved your issues with Alana, and I'm sorry if I started any issues with Teddy. I'm sure I'll be hearing about that soon. You were right about you being a world-class bowler; I doubt I'll be able to go up against that kind of skill ever again.
Your truth was interesting. Here I am thinking you hated me when we were younger.
As to your second letter…I'm so sorry, Dylan. I know how much he means to you, even though I won't lie and say that I fully understand it. You don't seem like the kind of person that would tolerate drugs, but I guess we've never really talked about that, have we? Partying is kind of…well, it's a place where our two worlds don't really connect, I suppose. As horrible as that sounds.
Please, please don't act like the world is out to get you. Or me, for that matter. It is what it is, you know? It's not like we can change those things that are totally out of our control, and it's not like we really have any say in what our parents choose. Focus on the now, Dylan. Focus on falling in love with Teddy, and working out your differences with Alana. I don't want to see you caught up in all that negative bullshit ever again, alright? That's when things start to veer off course.
I honestly have to go (Star Wars Episode IV is on HBO, and I've missed it every day it's been on this week) but I want to leave you with this; don't say you're alone. Tell me you're feeling a bit sad, or maybe a tad lonely. You could be angry, lost, or just flat-out confused. But as long as I'm here, you will never be alone.
Teddy stood in front of the floor length mirror that hung on the back of his closed door, staring at the boy who was reflected back. Swallowing roughly, he brought one hand up to gently push away the tear that lingered on his pronounced cheekbone. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the playful breeze swirl and furl the battered curtains that hung from the one window in his room. The setting sun was the only source of light in the room, and a heavy shadow fell across Teddy's already darkened features.
There came a muffled shout from the other side of the door, and then a bang that shook the entire house as something was pushed into a wall. Teddy winced, squeezing his eyes shut and biting down on his bottom lip. This was normal, he reminded himself. There was nothing special about this day.
For a long time, he continued to listen to the cries of malice—both low and high—of his parents, who seemed to take no heed to the fact that he had been in his shadowy room for hours. Sucking in a deep breath, he decided that he should probably go make dinner, as no one else was going to venture into the kitchen this evening. The door was only open a crack when—
"I thought I told you to pay the electric bill? You do know the game is on tonight, right? I've got more than you're worth riding on this game tonight."
"Don't talk to me like that—!"
CRACK! The unmistakable sound of a backhanded slap floated up the stairs, and Teddy quickly closed the door before he could hear his mother cry out. He backed away from the door, no longer wanting to see the boy in the mirror and the look of stricken horror on his face. He had seen this boy grow up, mature, bury that pain. His stomach churned at the thought of himself.
Just then, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He contemplated not answering whoever it was, but in the end his curiosity won out. Hesitantly, he slid it out of his pocket and saw that he had a new text message.
Come over? It's been a while… —Con
Initially, Teddy rolled his eyes. He was never a huge fan of Connie, whether she was sucking up or mouthing off to him. And the fact that he had willingly helped her cheat on Henry for so long disgusted him. Still, though, she was a welcome distraction from the yells from the other room which had seemed to reach a blaring crescendo.
The name entered his mind so fast and so painfully, that he actually closed his eyes for a moment. He told Connie a long time ago that he didn't want to be part of her antic any longer, and that was because he truly wanted to be with Dylan. He liked her. She was bright and funny and just so different. But, she had gone out with Henry. She had admitted it, right to his face. Sure, maybe it was under the pretense of 'just friends', but with Henry Hornman and girls, there was always so much more. They couldn't resist him.
He felt his features slip into a scowl as he thought about the easy way she had turned him down, instead writing her letters to Henry and going bowling with Henry and always thinking about Henry, Henry, Henry. Just like everyone else.
Slipping the pads of his thumbs onto his keyboard, he typed out a quick message and hit send.
Be there in ten. —Bear
If she wanted to see other people, so would he. Simple as that. Tucking his phone neatly in his pocket, Teddy threw the window open a little wider and hopped onto the front porch roof. He expertly balanced as he made his way to the gutter, then began the treacherous journey down to the grass.
There was no glance back, no wish that he could have broken up his parent's fight. There were no more tears besides the one, no more childish wants of being happy and whole. There was only his feet, softly touching ground, and the simple smile that spread across his lips at the thought of being free from his home.
Teddy had just rounded the corner when his door creaked open once again, and a set of small footsteps pattered in. There was a slight pause as the woman who had entered Teddy's room surveyed the damage that had taken place there in the last few years—the ripped curtains, graffitied desk, the broken lamp. How many times had she noticed these things, but never thought of the boy who had to live with them?
She made her way to the window, which was wide open and letting in a stream of air that played with the wisps of loose hair around her face. She closed her eyes and breathed, enjoying the cool feeling against her stinging cheek. Tears seeped out from under her eyelids, and she wished nothing more at that moment than for her son to be home. When had he left? She hadn't even realized how much time had slipped away during tonight's argument.
Softly sealing the window shut, she picked her way through her son's room again and stepped out into the hallway. She cast one last glance upon the clutter before pulling the door close and heading downstairs to await his arrival. It could be hours, but she didn't really mind. These days, nothing really fazed her.